not your best work

Today is the day the fears come. You’ve known they would – don’t we all? – but you kept doing the thing until they came because you weren’t so afraid in those moments. Maybe the thing was rock climbing or writing or dancing or working on making new friends. Doesn’t matter much; you get a good enough pep-talk and you can keep going off of that for a while because you feel so seen and so perfectly understood that you can move forward knowing somebody is at your back, cheering for you. 

And then one day you feel alone again. (Maybe that is where most fear is based: we think failure means rejection and rejection, loneliness and so we vow never to fail, even if we must never try.) You felt alone again today. You imagined how it might be if you didn’t perform as well on your next attempt and you wrapped it in failure and you wrapped the failure in rejection and you looked at this like you were holding it in the palm of your hand, and then you threw it as far away from yourself as you could. Nobody, nobody wants to be lonely. 

This, then, is the day that matters most. You will not do your best today. I understand that. I accept that, dear heart. I still care about you. So many people who will probably never know your best work and your worst work and even your mediocre work still care about you; will always care about you. Your skill is not going to be the measure of your loneliness. This day matters because it’s the day you fought back against the fear. It’s the day you rejected the fear of loneliness out of hand. Today is the day you stood up with your knees knocking and you didn’t sit back down again until you’d done that thing, because you’re brave and because you’re learning that this thing right here doesn’t define who you are or even how most people see you. 

There is something to be said for rest days or cheat days or days off but we’re not going to say it here, because we’re not talking about rest and sabbaths and the need to breathe. We’re talking about the need to stop hyperventilating, the need to wipe the tears, the need to blow our noses and take a deep breath and put in one more day, however short, at the habit that’s being built. I said you won’t do your best work today but maybe that was wrong. Maybe you will. Maybe we should realize that some of our absolute best work isn’t the prettiest or the fastest or the longest or the best-played – it was the hardest, to which we still sat down and gave our best. 

I want you to think so much about the work you’re going to do today that you forget to leave space for the fear. If you can’t sit down and do it right now, do the next best thing: start planning it. Plan to sit down after you’ve cleared the dinner dishes; plan to lace up your running shoes when you slip off your heels. Create the vision in your mind and make it as appealing as possible. The cool air brushing past you as you run. The familiar, comforting tap of the keys when you’re practicing piano. The slow way the yoga mat stretches gradually under your fingers, until your palms are damp and sweaty and sliding. Picture this work and picture your place in it. Picture your running route. Imagine the words you’re going to write. Eventually you’ll leave no room for procrastination. You’ll be fighting less fear because you’ll be armed with joy. 

And sure; maybe that sounds a bit grandiose. It doesn’t work on every hard day. Some days stay hard right up through the moment you close the laptop and wonder vaguely how you learned to write such crap. I have done this. I still do this. It will always suck and it will never be easy. Skipping it will always seem like the best option on those days but it isn’t. I need you to believe me: when you think nobody is cheering you on, that is when I’m here cheering you on. I’m writing this for you to remember when you feel like you can’t possibly have anything good to produce or practice today. This day, darling? This impossible day right here? This is your best day. Don’t lose it.

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